The Mets have a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. Even after the devastating injury to their closer Edwin Diaz, that’s why they need to explore the trade market soon. Rather later.
They were aggressive in the offseason and struck early to prevent Diaz from reaching free agency, signing him to a five-year, $102 million contract. But Puerto Rico’s worst nightmare came Wednesday when Díaz, arguably the best in the game, injured his right knee during a celebration after a victory propelled them into the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. On Thursday, he underwent surgery on his right patellar tendon, which comes with a general recovery timeline of eight months, ruling him out for the entire season.
The margins are pretty tight in the National League East, the toughest division in baseball. The Mets won 101 games last year, but were edged by the Braves at the wire. This year, the East is expected to be a season-long battle, with the Braves and Phillies capable of winning the division and the World Series.
Therefore, it is important to address the closer role for the Mets. They have options to fill the void left by Diaz’s injury, including a pair of in-house relievers: David Robertson, 37, has 157 career saves and totaled 20 last season for the Cubs and Phillies; Adam Ottavino, 37, has 33 career saves, including 11 for the Red Sox in 2021. Robertson may be eligible for the first shot in this role, but if the Mets go with in-house options early on, I’m guessing manager Buck Showalter will use some. Group based on best matches.
However, I think the Mets’ best play would be a closer trade. I’m not suggesting they do it right away, nor that they “overpay” by offering any of their top five prospects. But I think their farm system is deep enough to make trades appealing to both teams if they focus strictly on trade targets over non-contending teams that are rebuilding.
Here are six trade targets general manager Billy Eppler could consider as the Mets begin the 2023 season without Diaz.
(Statistics are for the 2022 season unless otherwise noted. WAR is by Baseball Reference.)
1. Daniel Bart, RHP, Rockies
HT: 6-4 WT: 215
War: 3.8 WL: 6-4 Era: 1.79 SV: 34
G: 57 GF: 48 IP: 60 1/3 Therefore: 69 BB: 25 whip: 0.994
The Rockies are picked by most to finish last again, so there’s little reason for them to keep the 37-year-old closer. Daniel Bart had a tremendous 2022 season, averaging 98 mph on his fastball, and posting an average of 88 mph on his slider. Bard’s fastball spin rate and fastball velocity each ranked in the 97th percentile. His xERA/xwOBA was in the 95th percentile and his barrel% was in the 89th percentile. He posted a 1.59 ERA on the road and a 1.97 ERA at home, a split close to the Coors Field factor. Bart signed a two-year, $19 million contract through 2024.
2. Alexis Díaz, RHP, Reds
HT: 6-2 WT: 224
War: 3.1 WL: 7-3 Era: 1.84 SV: 10
G: 59 GF: 20 IP: 63 2/3 Therefore: 83 BB: 33 whip: 0.958
I’m not sure there’s a better way for the Mets to replace Edwin Diaz in a closer role than to temporarily buy out his brother Alexis. If the Reds are “all-in” on their rebuild and they can “win” a prospect trade, GM Nick Krall needs to pull the trigger. If the Mets land Alexis Diaz, he could be used primarily as a set-up man in front of Robertson and given a chance to earn the closer’s role. Díaz is a two-pitch reliever with a 96 to 98 mph fastball and a hard 87 mph slider. Last season, opponents hit .127 against his four-seamer and .133 against his slider. His fastball spin rate is in the 100th percentile and his whiff% is in the 97th percentile. The trade cost for Diaz, who is not arbitration eligible until 2025, would be steep.
3. Scott Barlow, RHP, Royals
HT: 6-3 WT: 210
War: 2.8 WL: 7-4 Era: 2.18 SV: 24
G: 69 GF: 47 IP: 74 1/3 Therefore: 77 BB: 22 whip: 0.996
Scott Barlow relies heavily on his secondary pitches, throwing his 84 mph slider nearly 45 percent and his curveball 31 percent, and for good reason: Opponents are hitting just .189 against the slider and .138 against the curveball. He was solid in the closer role for Kansas City, converting 24 of 28 save opportunities last year. The Royals signed Aroldis Chapman in the offseason and could use him as their closer if they deal Barlow, who is under team control for two years.
4. David Bettner, RHP, Pirates
HT: 6-1 WT: 250
War: 1.3 WL: 3-4 Era: 2.61 SV: 19
G: 45 GF: 34 IP: 51 2/3 Therefore: 69 BB: 16 whip: 1.123
David Bettner has two of his best secondary pitches, the curveball and split-finger, in the 96 to 97 mph range. Last year opposing hitters hit .245 against his fastball, .190 against his curveball and .182 against his split-finger. His whiff% ranked in the 92nd percentile, his fastball rate was in the 89th percentile and his K% was in the 94th percentile. Several teams have inquired about Bednar’s availability over the past year, but the Pirates’ asking price is high. (Bedtner remains under team control for four more seasons.) Still, with Pittsburgh rebuilding and still having ways to compete, it’s hard to imagine the Mets couldn’t find a way to land him.
5. Alex Lange, RHP, Tigers
HT: 6-3 WT: 202
War: 0.4 WL: 7-4 Era: 3.41 SV: 0
G: 71 GF: 11 IP: 63 1/3 Therefore: 82 BB: 31 whip: 1.232
President of baseball operations Scott Harris traded his two best relievers — Gregory Soto and Joe Jimenez — in the offseason to improve the Tigers’ everyday position-player group. With Detroit in the midst of a complete team overhaul, there’s no reason to stop dealing Harris now. Alex Lange is the best reliever left in the Tigers’ bullpen. He throws a 96 to 97 mph fastball, an 85 mph curveball and a hard changeup. Last year his Whiff% was in the 100th percentile, his chase rate was in the 95th percentile and his average exit velocity was in the 93rd percentile. Opponents hit .190 against his curveball and .118 against his changeup. Lange will not be arbitrator eligible until 2025.
6. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Royals
HT: 6-4 WT: 218
War: -0.2 WL: 4-4 Era: 4.46 SV: 9
G: 43 GF: 19 IP: 36 1/3 Therefore: 43 BB: 28 whip: 1.431
If the Mets don’t like the asking prices on the five relievers above, do what the Royals are doing now and look at Aroldis Chapman. I recently asked Royals GM JJ Piccolo about Chapman, and he was positive: “Aroldis has worked really hard this offseason to get a repeat of his delivery from a few years ago, and so far (this spring) he’s been great. The fastball tops out at 98 to 99 (mph) and his slider is good. He uses both his transition and split effectively and gains a lot of confidence. If the Mets can’t make a deal with Kansas City for Barlow, how about Chapman? We know he can handle the New York market and he has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove he can bounce back. Well, maybe the Mets would consider a trade if he agreed not to get a tattoo in the offseason?
(Top photo by Daniel Bard: Robert Edwards / USA Today)